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Free breakfast and lunch is coming for all Lynn public school students

Lynn public schools will soon offer free lunch to all students. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — All students at Lynn Public Schools will soon be able to receive a free breakfast and lunch, which is aimed at ensuring no kids go hungry and reduces the stigma of low-income families who may have otherwise had to apply for free meals.

The School Committee recently approved a request from Kevin McHugh, School Business Administrator, which allows school administration to enter into the Community Eligibility Provision Program, which is part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The legislation allows school districts to provide an alternative that eliminates the need for household paper applications for free and reduced price meals in school districts. All students can receive a free breakfast and free lunch, regardless of their status, with the provision, according to a memo from McHugh to the School Committee and Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Jared Nicholson, a member of the School Committee. “It’s a great policy and there was some work (done) to make sure that it was going to be feasible for us and make sense for us.

“I really believe that no kids should go hungry in school and this is going to help make sure kids are well fed and ready to learn and it’s going to benefit us financially.”

Nicholson said the provision is a result of federal policy change around the school meal reimbursements to encourage districts to streamline the process for giving school meals to kids that couldn’t afford it by just offering free meals to everybody. He said it doesn’t require paperwork to enroll, reduces the stigma of the program and gets more kids eating so kids aren’t going hungry throughout the day.

According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website, the community eligibility provision allows high need schools to serve free meals to all students while alleviating the administrative burden to collect paper applications.

School Committee vice-chair Donna Coppola, one of the driving forces behind the effort, said free meals at schools is something she’s wanted for a long time. She said there’s no questions asked and it takes the stigma away from kids having to bring in paper applications.

McHugh said in his memo that each year, the school department reviews its status to see if it is economically feasible to submit an application to DESE. In the past, it has been cost prohibitive. DESE only counts students who are “direct certified,” which means they were receiving assistance and listed on the state’s database, he said.

Previously, 51 percent of the district’s students were direct certified, versus the traditional paper application process of 79 percent. But McHugh said over the past two years, work has been done to increase the district’s direct certified students by comparing its student database against the state’s databases.

Now, the school district’s direct certified rate under the Community Eligibility Provision Program, is 58.4 percent, which would allow Lynn Public Schools to receive a net profit of approximately $100,000 annually. To qualify for the program, a school district must have a direct certified rate of at least 40 percent.

Nicholson said the traditional paper application process for 79 percent was referring to an old definition — the state government changed its metric for measuring poverty, which ended up penalizing Lynn, meaning that kids that were in the same financial system before the state changed the definition were not being counted. He said the district has been working to make sure that all the kids that should be reflected are.

He said the crux of it is the lower the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, the less reimbursement a district would get. If the direct certified rate was not high enough, the program would end up costing the district money.

“(We) finally crossed the threshold where we could do the Community Eligibility Provision and break even or stand to gain,” Nicholson said.

Lynn Public Schools would be able to enter into the Community Eligibility Provision Program once DESE approves and validates its eligibility percentage and free meals would begin to be served next school year.

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